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The Congregational Church, 1729-1906
From the "History of Redding" by Charles Burr Todd
 
   

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The Congregational church was the first religious body organized in the town. Deeply impressed as were our Puritan forefathers with the value of religion to the soul, they were equally impressed with its value to the state, and were careful to rear, side by side with their civil structure, the Church, in which, as they believed, the pure Gospel of Christ was preached, and the soundest principles of morality inculcated. Proof of their pious care in this respect is to be found in the history of Redding, as in that of almost every New England town.

As early as August, 1729, but three months after they had wrung a reluctant consent from the mother town to assume parish privileges, we find them providing for the settlement of a minister among them in the following manner: "At a Society Meeting held in the Society of Redding, Deacon George Hull chosen Moderator. It was voited that s'd Society would give for the settlement of a minister in s'd society the sum of seventy pounds, and a house, and his wood, and bring it up, and the next year eighty pounds, and raise five pounds a year till it comes to one hundred pounds a year. It was voted, that Edmond Luis, esquire, shall decide the matter as to setting the meeting hous, it was voted that s’d Mr. Luis should come the first week in October to decide the matter afores’d. No minister was settled, however, until 1733; the first church edifice was erected early in 1732. It stood a few yards west of the present Methodist church, and nearly in the center of the public square or common. A Photograph or rough sketch even, of this first church in Redding, would be invaluable to men of the present day; we are certain, however, that it was a much more elegant and finished edifice than was common in the settlements. It was two stories high, as we shall see, and of quite respectable dimensions. It was also lathed and plastered, and furnished with galleries, and windows of imported glass, but further details are lacking. All that is to be found in the church records concerning the building is contained in the following extracts:

November 12th 1730-It was voted “that we will build a meting-hous in said society for the worship of God in the Presbyterian way. Voted that the meting-hous shall be thirty feet long, twenty eight feet wide, and two stories high. Voted that Lemuel Sanford, Thomas Williams, and Daniel Lion (be) chosen committee for (building) s’d meting-hous.”

February 23rd 1730-“You that are of the minds that all those persons that do, or hereafter may inhabit in the parish, which profess themselves to be of the Church of England, shall have free liberty to come into this meting-hous that is now in building, and attend the Publick worship of God there, according to the articles of faith agreed upon by the assembly of Divine at Seabrook, and established by the Laws of this Government, and be seated in s’d hous according to their estates.”

November 3rd 1732-“Stephen Burr hath undertaken to cart stones and clay for the underpinning the meting-hous for 1lb. 10s. 00d. Daniel Lion hath undertaken to underpinning the meting hous and tend himself for 2lb. 4s. od. Daniel Lion hath undertaken to get the lath and lay them on for 3lb.0s. 0d. Stephen Burr and Theopphilus Hull are chosen committee to take care of the parsonage.” (probably to secure a parsonage for the expected preacher, as it is not likely that one was then built). It was as yet, however, a church without a pastor. Mr. Elisha Kent had been called in October, 1730, but had declined, as we infer from the silence of the records on the subject. A society meeting held May 8th 1732 extended a similar call to the Rev. Timothy Mix, and deputed Deacon George Hull "to go to the association at Stanford to ask advice concerning the settlement of Mr. Mix;" but this call, as in the case of Mr. Kent, seems to have been declined. At length a unanimous call was made to the Rev. Nathaniel Hunn, as follows:

Jan. 31, 1732-3--“At a society meeting held in the parish (of) Reading, George Hull chosen Moderator for s'd meting, Mr. Nathaniel Hunn by a voit nemine contradicente was made chois of for the minister of s'd parish, furthermore it was voited at s’d meting to settle upon the s'd Mr. Hunn's yearly salery as followeth, that is, for the first year of his administration, seventy pounds current money or bills of Public Credit in New England, the second year, seventy-five pounds, for the third year, eighty pounds, for the fourth year, eighty five pounds, the fifth year ninety pounds, the sixth year, ninety five pounds, the seventh year, a hundred pounds, all in current money as afores'd, and so on a hundred pounds a year during the term of his continuance in the ministry in s'd parish, and also to give the s'd -Mr. Hunn the whole and sole privilege of all the parsonage land belonging to s'd parish, and to provide him his firewood, during the term above s'd, also to find him a convenient dwelling hous for the first five years, also to give the s'd Mr. Hunn, a hundred acres of land on or before the day of his ordination."

Feb. 20th, 1732-3-“It was voited that the ordination of Mr. Hunn shall be on the 21st day of March next," and John Read and George Hull were chosen a committee "to represent the parish concerning the ordination of Mr. Hunn." From this point we have for a guide the church records in the handwriting of Mr. Hunn, its settled pastor. It is called "A Book of Records Wherein is an account, 1st of the transactions of the church, 2d of persons received to communion, 3rd of persons baptized, 4th of marriages, 5th of deaths, 6th of persons who renew the covenant." The Rev. Sidney G. Law, in his Centennial Sermon, delivered at Redding, July 6th, 1876, thus speaks of Mr. Hunn s pastorate: "His first record is very brief for so important a matter, viz: 'March 21st, 1733, I was separated to the work of the ministry by prayer and fasting, and the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.' The next record gives the choice of deacons, viz: 'At a church meeting March 29, 1733, we made choice of Stephen Burr for a deacon, and some time after we chose Thee. Hull to the same service. The next records relate to the adoption of Tate and Brady's version of the Psalms, first for one month, and then for the indefinite future. The first members of the church enumerated by Mr. Hunn were as follows: Col. John Read and wife, Theophilus Hull and wife, George Hull and wife, Peter Burr and wife, Daniel Lion and wife, Daniel Bradley and wife, Stephen Burr and his wife, Ebenezer Hull and his wife, John Griffin, Nathaniel Sanford, Thomas Fairchild, Lemuel Sanford, Benjamin Lion and wife, Mary wife of Richard Loin, Isaac Hull, Ester wife of Thomas Williams, Ester wife of Benjamin Hamilton. Thus it appears that the church was organized with twenty-six members, including the two deacons, about the time that Mr. Hunn was ordained. viz., the 21st of March, 1733. Mr. Hunn married Ruth, a sister of Col. Read(She was a daughter of the Hon. John Read, who settled at Lonetown in 1714. Both Mr. Law and Mr. Barber are in error in supposing that the original John Read lived and died in Redding. He moved to Boston in 1722, and his son John succeeded to his title, and manor at Lonetown. The latter is the one mentioned in these records.) He was pastor of the church sixteen years. During this time he received about ninety-two members into the church, the most of them by letter of recommendation from neighboring churches. He performed thirty-five marriages and one hundred and ninety-two baptisms. He died while on a journey, and was buried in Boston in 1749. His widow, Ruth Hunn, died in 1766, and was buried near her brother, Col. John Read, in the cemetery west of the parsonage."

Mr. Hunn's administration seems to have been a happy and prosperous one, and few events of importance occurred during its continuance. the records are taken up with cases of church discipline, with additions to his salary, providing his firewood, and with repairs to the meeting house.

In 1738 it was voted "to finish glassing the meting hous as is begun, and do something tot he pulpit." In 1739, "voted, that Segt. Joseph Lee shall get Mr. Hunn's wood, and have seven pounds for it." "Voted that the place for putting up warnings for society meetings be changed from Umpawaug to the mill door." In 1740, "voted to rectifie the meting hous in the following articles, viz. to put in new glass where it is wanting, and to mend the old. To lay some beams in the gallary and double floor. To fasten the meting hous doors; to make stairs up the gallery," and "that the place for parish meeting shall be at the school house, by the meting hous for the future." In 1741, "voted, to seat the meting hous in the lower part with plain strong seats." In 1742, "voted to impower the parish committee to agree with a person to beat the drum as a signal to call the people together on the Sabbath." Again Feb. 15, 1743-4, "It was voted that the timber and boards provided for seating the meeting house, shall be improved to that end for the use of the Parish." These entries though unimportant in themselves give us pleasant glimpses of the healthy and active life of the church. Mr. Hunn died in the summer or fall of 1749, and for the four following years the church was without a pastor. A call was extended to Mr. Solomon Mead in March, 1751, without success, and in November of the same year to the Rev. Izrahiah Wetmore, with a like result. The interim was improved by the people, however, in building a new church, which stood nearly on the site of the present edifice.

The first action in this important matter was taken at a Society meeting held Feb. 9, 1748, when it was put to vote "whether it be necessary to build a new meting hous in s'd Parish," and passed in the affirmative; whereupon "Left. Joseph Sanford" was appointed agent for the Society to prefer a memorial to the next General Assembly, "to affix the place whereon the meting hous should be built." The successive stages by which the building grew to completion are defined in a very interesting manner in the records." Dec. 29th, 1799, "It was voted that Deacon Burr and others be a committee to see that there is timber got, and sawmill logs for a meeting house in this Parish, s'd timber to be 37 ft. in width and 46 ft. in length." Jan. 17th, 1750, the County Court in session at Fairfield, on the memorial of Redding, appointed Thomas Benedict, Esq., and Capt. Josiah Starr, of Danbury, and Samuel Olmsted, Esq., of Ridgefield, a committee to affix the place whereon the meeting house should be built; to act with these, the Society appointed a committee composed of John Read, Stephen Burr, Joseph Sanford, and Ephraim Jackson. Jan 29th, 1751, a committee was appointed "to agree with some persons top build the new meeting house." It would appear that ground had not been broken for it as early as April 25th, 1751, for at that date a committee was appointed to meet the County Court's committee "to find a place for the meeting house."

It was probably completed and ready for use early in the summer of 1752, as on the 22d of June of that year a call was extended to the Rev. Mr. Tammage to be their preacher, and the old meeting house was sold to Jehu Burr for L34. The manner in which this meeting house was "seated" (which did not occur until 1763) is an interesting commentary on the manners and customs of the day, and has the further merit of novelty, it being doubtful if another record can be found in New England detailing so minutely the method of assigning pews in the early Puritan churches. We copy from the records of a Society meeting held at Widow Sanford's, June 23d, 1763:

"Put to vote whether the meeting house of s'd society shall be seated in ye form following viz. a com'te being appointed to Dignify ye pews and other seats in s'd society shall sit in s'd pews and seats according to their Rank and Degree to be computed by their several lists and age, viz. upon ye two last years lists, and to allow three pound per year to be added to a person's List for his advancement in a seat, and all at ye discresion of s'd com'te who shall be appointed to Dignify s'd pews and seats, and to inspect the respective lists and ages of s'd members."
The committee appointed was Joseph Sanford, Ebenezer Couch, and Stephen Burr; but Messrs. Sanford and Burr declining to act, Ephraim Jackson and Joseph Banks were chosen in their place." This committee was unable to settle the question satisfactorily, and a meeting was held August 11th, 1763, at which the following action was taken:

"It was put to vote whether the Dignity of ye pews and seats in ye meeting house should be in the following manner viz. ye pew adjoining ye pulpit stairs first in Dignity: ye pew adjoining ye grait doors, west side, second in Dignity: the fore seat third in Dignity, the second pew west of ye pulpit, fourth, the second seat, fifth: the second pew north from the west door, sixth: the fifth pew north of ye west door seventh: the third pew north of the west door, eighth: the second pew west of ye grait doors ninth: the first pew south of ye west door, tenth: the third seat, eleventh: the second pew south of the west door twelfth: the fourth seat, thirteenth the front seat in ye gallery, fourteenth: the fore seat on ye side of the gallery, fifteenth: the pews and seats upon ye east end of ye meeting house of Equal Dignity with those upon the west side in the same manner and order as they are above mentioned. Passed in the negative."

Three months later another meeting was called, and adopted the following plan:
"The respective members of the society shall sit in ye pews and seats of the meeting house of s'd Society according to their rank or degree, to be computed by their respective lists and ages, viz., upon the lists given in upon the years 1751 and 1761 and 1762, and to allow three pounds per year to be added to a person's list for his advancement in a seat or pew the Respective lists and ages of s'd members are to be inspected, also to give the committee chosen at this meeting power to seat those that are new comers, and have not...in s'd society, to seat them at s'd committee's discresion.

"Likewise to seat ye Widows in s'd society at the best of ye committee's judgement, which method of seating s'd meeting house shall continue until s'd Society at their meeting shall order otherwise.

"Also voted that s'd com'te shall seat those women whose husbands belong to the Church of England at their discresion."

The Rev. Nathaniel Bartlett, the second pastor of the church, was ordained May 23d, 1753, the next year after the church was built. Form the record in his own handwriting, we learn that the ministers who assisted at his ordination were as follows: "The Rev. Mr. White of Danbury made the first prayer. The Rev. Mr. Todd of East Guilford preached the sermon. Rev. Mr. Kent made the ordaining prayer. Rev. Mr. Mills of Ripston gave the charge, Rev. Mr. Judson of Newtown gave the right hand of fellowship, and Rev. Mr. Ingersoll of Ridgefield made the concluding prayer. “Mr. Bartlett came to Redding when a young man fresh from his collegiate studies, and continued pastor of the church over which he was ordained for fifty-seven years--the longest pastorate, it is said, known to the New England churches. He is described as a gentleman of the old school, kind and considerate, of an equable temper, a just man, a fine scholar, and an eloquent preacher. During his term of service the crude settlement in the wilderness assumed the dignity of a town. The church grew from infancy to manhood and the country passed from the position of dependent colonies to that of free and sovereign states. In the War of Independence Mr. Bartlett's sympathies were entirely with the patriot cause; two of his sons entered the army, munitions of war were stored in his house, and he himself frequently officiated as chaplain during the encampment of Putnam's division in the town in the winter of 1779. Like many of the New England clergymen of that day, he was the teacher of such youths in his charge as might desire a liberal education, and among the many whom he thus fitted for usefulness was the celebrated poet and statesman, Joel Barlow. Mr. Bartlett died Jan. 11, 1810, and was buried in the old cemetery west of the church. The simple inscription upon his tombstone reads as follows:

THE REV. NATHANIEL BARTLETT.
Died, January 11, 1810, aged 83 years.
"I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."--JESUS CHRIST.

During the entire period of Mr. Bartlett's ministry we have in the church records but one entry of importance, and that is of interest as marking the legal status of the Episcopal Society in the town. This entry is as follows:

"To Seth S. Smith of Redding, in Fairfield Co.Greeting, Whereas by law the Episcopal Church in said Redding is become a distinct society whereby the members of the Presbyterian church in said Redding have become the first society in said town. These are therefore by authority of the State of Connecticut to command you to warn and give notice to all the members of said first society, and all others who by law are obliged to contribute toward the support, and the worship, and the ministry with the same, to meet at the meeting house in said Redding on Monday the 20th of December at 12 in order to choose a moderator and necessary officers. "Redding, December 14, 1785”

The Rev. Jonathan Bartlett, third minister of the church, was ordained as colleague with his father, Rev. Nathaniel Bartlett, in 1796. The first of the church records in his handwriting is as follows: "Feb. 3 1796 I was separated to the work of the ministry and ordained as colleague with my father Nathaniel Bartlett over the Congregational church in Redding in Gospel order and form. The ministers who performed the work were as follows viz. the Rev. Israhiel Wetmore chosen Moderator, Robert Ross made the ordaining prayer, Elisha Rexford made the introductory prayer, David Ely preached the sermon. Imposition of hands by N. Bartlett, R Ross and Rexford. John Ely gave the right hand of fellowship, Samuel W. Stebbins made the concluding prayer. "Of the life and ministry of this most excellent man, one who knew him intimately, the Rev. Thomas F. Davies, thus wrote: "In February, 1796, Mr. Bartlett was ordained colleague with his father, and after a faithful ministry of thirteen years, greatly esteemed and beloved by his people, was dismissed on account of ill-health, and by his own request. His heart was gladdened near the close of his pastoral life by a powerful and general revival of religion among the people of his charge. After his dismission, and when his health had been in a degree restored, he preached from time to time to destitute congregations in the vicinity, and at different periods, as occasion required, to the church of which he had been pastor, with great acceptation and usefulness. As a preacher he was eminently distinguished, for he was a man 'mighty in the Scriptures” Large portions of the Word of God, entire epistles even, dwelling in his memory, and when an impaired vision rendered the perusal of a book difficult or painful, he reviewed in his own mind, and often rehearsed to others, portions of the Scriptures with comments which rendered his society delightful and instructive He was a man of native eloquence, and great skill in the examination and exhibition of the subject which came before him. He was a scribe, 'well instructed in the things of the kingdom, a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.' While aiding other societies, he was eminently a benefactor to the church and society of which he had been a pastor, for in addition to the ministerial services gratuitously rendered, he gave in money in his various benefaction more to the society than the entire amount received from if during the whole period of his ministry, and has also left it a legacy of three thousand dollars. Useful, honored, and beloved he lived in his native town, inhabiting for nearly a century the same residence, for he was born in the house in which he died. With a calm and humble trust in God, in the entire possession of his mental powers, and with little apparent suffering, he fell asleep in Jesus."

Rev. Daniel Crocker, of Bedford, N.Y., was called in August, 1809, as colleague with Rev. Nathaniel Bartlett. He was a good man and a successful pastor, and served the church fifteen years, being dismissed in 1824. The Rev. Charles DeWitt Trappen was called, but not settled. The next pastor chosen was Mr. William C. Kniffen in 1825. He was dismissed in 1828. The Rev. Burr Baldwin was next called, but not settled. The next pastor was the   Rev. William L. Strong, formerly pastor at Somers, Tolland Co., Conn. He was installed June 23d, 1830, and dismissed Feb. 26th, 1835. In September, 1835, following Mr. Strong's dismissal, a subscription was commenced for the erection of the present church edifice, which was built in 1836. The expense was not to exceed $2,500.00 with the old meeting house. In December of the same year a unanimous call was extended to the Rev. David C. Comstock, but was not accepted at that time. In March, 1837, Rev. Daniel E. Manton was called, but not settled. In June of the same year the Rev. Jeremiah Miller was called, and was installed July 12th, 1837. Mr. Miller was demised in 1839. In the following year, 1840, Mr. David C. Comstock was ordained and installed pastor of the church. He was dismissed in 1845. After him Daniel D. Frost,after preaching as stated supply for eighteen months, was ordained December 30th, 1845. He continued pastor ten years, being dismissed October 13th, 1856. In 1857 the pulpit was supplied by the Rev. Mr. Root. In 1858 the Rev. Enoch S. Huntington supplied the pulpit one year. He presented the communion service to the church, for which he received his thanks. In 1859 the church was remodeled and painted, receiving the beautiful fresco which still adorns it. In 1860 Rev. W.D. Herrick became pastor, and so continued until 1864. after him Rev. E. B. Huntington, and also Rev. Mr. Barnum. preached for a short time. Rev. S. F. Farmer supplied in 1865. Rev. K.B. Glidden was installed September 12th, 1866; resigned December, 1868. In 1869 the Rev. Charles Chamberlain became acting pastor. He resigned in September, 1871.

Rev. Sidney G. Law, to whom I am in indebted for the above summary of the later history of the church, became acting pastor June 1st, 1872, and after a prosperous ministry of six years resigned in 1878.

Rev. W.J. Jennings, the present pastor, was installed December 17th, 1879. Some statistics of this ancient church ready gathered to my hand will prove interesting and valuable. The complete list of those who have served it as pastors, with the date of their ordination and dismissal, is as follows:

Ministers                       

Nathaniel Hunn              
Nathaniel Bartlett          
Jonathan Bartlett           
Daniel Crocker                 
William C. Kniffen         
William L. Strong           
Jeremiah Miller               
David C. Comstock       
Daniel D. Frost                
Enoch S. Huntington       
W.D. Herrick                    
K.B. Glidden                   
Charles Chamberlain          
Sidney G. Law                

Deacons

Stephen Burr
Theophilus Hull
Lemuel Sanford
Daniel Mallory
Joseph Banks
Simon Couch
Lemuel Sanford
Stephen Betts
Lemuel Sanford
Aaron Read
Joel Foster
Lemuel Hawley
Samuel Read
Charles D. Smith
Rufus Meade
Thaddeus M. Abbott

Revivals

1808-9    75 conversions
1823        40 conversions
1829        08 conversions
1831        20 conversions
1838        30 conversions
1852        24 conversions
1855        12 conversions

The membership of the church at the time Charles Burr Todd was compiling in formation on the 'History of Redding' was 119. Forty males and Seventy-nine females.

 

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